Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse and Equine Rescue: An Interview

Candace Wade has long followed the legislation surrounding of Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horses and their fates once their show careers are over. Today she offers this interview with Horse Plus Humane Society founder Tawnee Preisner and her son Justin. 

This photos shows a close up of a chain popping on a Big Lick horse’s pastern. Photo courtesy of Horse Plus Humane Society.

Horse Rescue Heroes, Season 2, Episode 14 propelled me into interview mode. The slo-mo portion video exposed the detail of the Big Lick in motion. The whip-snap of the horses’ fetlocks. The pounding weighted hooves. The staggering gait. What does an equine rescue organization experience when faced with ex-Big Lick (BL)? I interviewed seasoned equine rescuer and founder of Horse Plus Humane Society Tawnee Preisner and her young son, Justin, to find out more.

Candace: What do you see at the sales regarding the BL (“Performance”) TN Walking Horses (TWH)?

Tawnee: I see used up, thrown away BL TWHs. I used to see them still wearing stacks and action devices. I see fewer horses in stacks now. I do see horses that had worn stacks and had them pulled before going to the sale. It’s obvious from the condition of the hooves. I see evidence of chemical burns — some cut tail tendons.

C: Why are auctions often called “Slaughter Sales?”

T: Slaughter Sales or Slaughter Auctions indicate “Kill Buyers (KB)” buying horses to be exported to foreign slaughterhouses. KBs pay up to 85 cents a pound. Horses might be trucked to a feedlot to be fattened to increase the price before trucked to Mexico. Some horses endure the long journey straight from auction to a foreign slaughterhouse.

C: What percentage of your annual rescues are ex-BL?

T: This year we have rescued 45 TWH. That’s out of 600+ horses nationwide we have rescued, sheltered and protected. The majority of them showed signs of BL training.

C: The racing industry has some “Second Life” or retirement facilities. Please name the “Second Life” facilities you know for ex-BL TWH.

T: We have found that the ex-BL horses at auction are usually used up. They suffer from problems with their joints, tendons and (especially in their hind end) arthritis and. . . . The horses are started in BL equipment very young. The immature bones and joints don’t hold up to the strain of the artificial gate forced on them.

Many of our BL rescues needed the “last act of kindness” (euthanasia). There was nothing more we could do for them. Our veterinarian examines each horse to determine the best option. If the horse is past recovery, it is sedated and humanely euthanized by our veterinarian.

“Spartan” had evidence of chemical burns on his pasterns. The veterinarian determined that he could be a pasture pet. “Spartan” has done well, but his legs and tendons are compromised. For now, “Spartan” has the best life possible after enduring years of performing BL.

“Gen’s Ice Glimmer” was a BL we rescued. We found him in stacks and chains. We made him sound enough to live. He is an ambassador for sound TWHs. Horse Plus Humane has been successful in rehabbing several ex-BL horses into loving homes.

Writer’s note:  I am unaware of organized facilities specifically for BL retirement. Margo Urad, Exec. Director of TN Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA) in Lewisburg, TN, shared with me that she was unaware of any organized facilities. She said that trainers sometimes take them to “give them a good home.” Private individuals sometimes take them. Her horses stay with her to be “pasture ornaments.” TWHBEA can be contacted for assistance in finding private homes.

C:  If there is a problem with the BL discipline, what solutions would improve your role as a rescue professional?

T:  The horse community must acknowledge the problems within the BL discipline. Stop using the training and devices to create the artificial gait. Breed and show the TWH for their natural abilities. The natural gait is being lost by prizing the horse with the flashiest artificial gait. (Writer’s note: The less damage, the more successful re-homing.)

Lost stack shoe in an arena. Photo courtesy of Horse Plus Humane Society.

C:  You noted the anger directed at you (at shows and sales) as a rescue professional. Why do you think that is? What have you experienced? (The writer’s experience.)

T:  I watch my back. I have been harassed and followed – attempts to intimidate. I had to hide in my truck as a BL guy peered in the windows as I hid. Show attendees laugh and point at me. Horrendous lies have been told about me and about our organization. I’ve had people yell in my face — curse at me — give me the finger. I will continue to speak out, the horses need a voice.

Tawnee Preisner. Photo courtesy of Horse Plus Humane Society.

C: Your son, Justin, has become more active in supporting sound TWHs. How have you “brainwashed” him into your point of view?

T: Our children have grown up seeing thousands of horses come into our organization. Justin has been to auctions. He helps rescue horses that can barely walk — have chemical burns. He has a first-hand perspective of how horses suffer for years just to achieve an artificial gate.

Justin has seen the hate and vileness towards the protestors. He’s observed the same behavior directed at horses that do not perform to a trainer’s expectation. At 16, Justin is passionate — about protesting — to be a voice for horses.

Justin and one of the rescues. Photo by Tawnee Preisner.

Interview with Justin Preisner:

C: Justin: How have your parents “brainwashed” you into your point of view?

J: I’ve been around horses all my life. I know about horses. Putting chemicals on their legs and wrapping them hurts like crazy. No, I have my own experiences. I haven’t been brainwashed.

C: What have you seen – experienced – that brought you to choose to become active?

J: Horses in pain, horses needing help. Someone has to help them so that’s why I want to speak for horses.

C:  What do your friends say about your activities? What have you shared?

J:  I’ve got some of my friends to protest with me. I had a great time with those friends. So, whenever I tell someone about the BL most of them don’t even know what it is. I can show them. I tell them how bad (the training) hurts and I explain how it hurts the horses.

Close up of a weighted shoe. Photo courtesy of Horse Plus Humane Society.

C:  If you feel problems exist with the BL form of training and showing, how would you solve them?

J: It’s really hard to change the entire BL industry, but with everyone coming together I believe it’s possible to stop hurting horses.

C: Why care about these horses? Some say they are just animals — for our use.

J:  Because they have feelings. I’ve seen it in their eyes at auctions. When you look into a horse’s eye you see more than just its eye, you see what it feels if it hurts. So that’s why I care.

Stacked shoes and chains. Photo courtesy of Horse Plus Humane Society.

What’s up with the PAST Act (Prevent All Soring Tactics)? Keith Dane, Senior Advisor for Equine Protection for the Humane Society of the United States offered an update. He added: “We’re waiting to see what the House will do regarding reintroduction – will it be reintroduced in its original version or modified. We continue to press Sec. Vilsack to reinstate the 2017 USDA Horse Protection rule that was finalized during his last tenure at the agency and would accomplish much of what PAST would.”